November 10, 2015 by cosmoakacitizensmith
Like everyone who knew him, the death of local Cardiff musician Mark Humphries was a shock and for a few days didn’t seem real. His music touched many people’s lives, my own included.
The first time I met Mark, my head was in a difficult place. I had taken that part of my life called “music”, put it in a box somewhere and buried it, half-hoping that I’d never find it again. Then I turned up at Rajah’s, a long-defunct but much-missed local watering hole in Riverside, Cardiff. The chairs were bright, plastic orange. They were attached to the floors and walls together with white, formica tables. A Bengali family ran the place and cooked up a weekly curry which you could enjoy over a pint and a game of pool. There was always a cheeky spliff on the go and a line of powder with your name on in the bogs – just don’t make it too obvious, ok?
I was to open up for a local band there, so I fought my insecurities and played before them. Just one last time – or so I promised vainly to myself. The band was two thirds of local Cardiff legends Doofer. Mark Humphries and Andre Magri, strummed and plucked guitars and sang. The third Doofer, Chris Ridgeway, was AWOL that night.
The songs they played, written by the three of them, sounded like timeless classics. Mark and Chris later went on to achieve similar feats in Cakehole Presley. Those of us in the crowd that night forgot our troubles and the batterings of life and danced and smiled. Everyone seemed to know the words. Rajah’s was my kind of place, these were my kind people and Doofer was my kind of music. At another show in Llanileth, someone introduced Mark to his friend as “one of the best songwriter in Wales.” Having heard his stuff, I was inclined to agree.
A few months later, September 11th happened. I felt politically disorientated by this tragic event and this added to my general feeling of dislocation. By this time however, I’d got hold of a copy of Doofer’s self-titled album. There were all the songs and more from that night, beautifully recorded by local soundsmith Crocker. At that time, the songs took in an almost apocalyptic, haunting beauty. They were a kind of sonic oasis in difficult times.
I remember running to catch a train from Cardiff Central to visit friends in England. I knew I had to hurry but I wanted to get copies of the Doofer CD, which was on sale near the station in Backpackers. I was glad I made the effort that day. I’ve sent copies of that CD all over the place. People I know who have never even known or met Doofer have listened to it thousands of times. They’ve even raise their kids listening into it. Some say it is the best thing I have ever sent them.
Mark would turn up at the endless parties that seemed to go just out of town at the hippy commune in Coed Hills. (By that time I’d just accepted the music was back to stay.) We’d all jam and he’d say: “Get yourself a digital recording software package for your computer. It’s like a palette. You can use it anytime you want.” I never forgot his words and took him up on his advice. He was spot on.
Mark seemed a permanent part of this city and his music beamed out across the Hayes concourse when he sat with his guitar and amp and busked instrumental versions of songs like “Singing in the Rain” and “Land of Our Fathers”. It was so technically brilliant yet fluid in nature that it didn’t appear cheesy or flash: a timeless part of the place but now, weirdly, it is no more. Has anyone recorded it? Mark’s kids have been busking in the same spot and raised money for his funeral, where people were told to “wear something sparkly.”
Thanks for helping unlock the music again, Mark.